Hey, kid. It’s me, 25-going-26!Self. How you doing? I know the answer, but I thought I’d ask to be polite.
If your math skills aren’t working (it happens, I get you), I’ll just clarify: I’m writing from the end of your 25th year on earth. Kind of crazy. There are a few things I’d like to tell you, things that might make this coming orbit of the sun a little better. Maybe.
This year’s going to be nuts. You thought 24 was a ride, but this is a whole new level. You’re going to have amazing highs. You’ll sign with a literary agent, finally, about two months into 25. Your dear friend is going to get an amazing publishing deal, and that’s a hundred times better. Especially when she starts to realize what’s happened and grabs your shoulder and screams in pure, overwhelmed, delighted disbelief.
Your nieces will live the next town over for a little while. You’ll see Elie Wiesel one last time on an unplanned trip to NYC with your older brother. You’ll surprise dear Georgia friends with a summer visit. Your sweet cousin is going to get married to a total nerd, and your friend to a giant. You’ll teach a group of honors students about Afghanistan in your first ever lecture, and they’ll laugh at your jokes, which is a relief. About a thousand people will tell you you’re “reserved,” to which you can only chuckle. In part because it’s all a clever disguise with 25 years of practice.
You’ll also have some low lows. You’ll have emergency numbers on speed dial for those dark February days. And, hon, I know it sucks, but you’re going to get three more diagnoses. Spoiler alert: Celiac, gastroparesis, and osteoarthritis. Yeah, that’s right, it’s possible to have both rheumatoid arthritis and osteo. Yes, it’s possible to have osteo when you’re barely two and a half decades into life. You’ll be called “frankly bizarre” and you’ll say goodbye to all of your favorite foods, and it’s going to suck.
I won’t sugarcoat this. I don’t know that it really gets “better” — I don’t know that the darkness really goes away. But it will not always be this kind of darkness. It will not always be days where you count your breaths to make sure you’re still breathing. It won’t always be awkward gulping sobs through communion. One day, you’ll wake up and realize you feel pretty much okay, and have felt like that for a while without ever noticing. And you’ll keep living. Even when you don’t particularly want to.
A boy named Sami is going to teach you how to hope again. His book is going to write itself at your fingertips, you staring on in terrified awe. Rumor has it that he’s going out to the grand world of publishers next month. Funny that you, one year ago, barely even know he exists in your heart.
One month before your 25th birthday, you saw that picture of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, drowned as he fled from Syria. Your soul cracked. It’s going to get worse, love. You’ll be spending hours a day reading articles, eyes stinging as you wish yourself far away to the migrating orphans’ trails and the boats and the camps. Eventually your counselor will recommend you stop watching videos of Syrian babies whimpering. Just for a little while.
This is your superpower, and it’s time to learn it again: You have a frankly overwhelming ability to feel. Behind all that “reserve” and “control,” you are nothing but a tangled mass of Feeling. Use it well. You cannot absolve the world’s pain by burying yourself in the world’s grief. You’ll try.
Let me save you some time: Christ already bought the world’s pain. He’s got it. Cling to the hem of his robes and bleed and heal. You know how to grieve, I get it. But do you know joy, jubilee? Do you know grace that cries and laughs and dances and cleans?
I’m just getting familiar with it, in quiet-soft moments on Sunday afternoons and candlelight games and summer picnics. I wish I could give you some sort of shortcut here. I suspect that the respite has to do with the route, though.
There is a lot to be discouraged about this year, not going to lie. But there is a lot to love. There are snuggly puppies, and Williamsburg in autumn, and unexpected care packages, and chasing runaway umbrellas across the beach, and teaching nieces to swing dance, and Star Wars, and fresh dreams, and new friends, and reconnecting. And I promise — I promise — these things are as powerful as all the wars and all the disappointments and all the deaths. Measure the good, bury your face in it, breathe through it, and go back into the battle laughing.
You’re a hot mess, kid. But you know what? You’re okay.